HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan on M&A Strategy, Lessons from PTC and Groove, and Boston as the “Next Madison Avenue”

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like to buy a company.” (I’m not deep enough in marketing tech, but perhaps a complementary firm like BzzAgent or Demandware could be a candidate, or, in the Valley, a startup like Marketo—pure speculation on my part.)

What also grabbed me was Halligan’s lessons learned from his previous experience at Boston-area firms Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC) and Groove Networks. At PTC in the 1990s, he worked in Tokyo and Hong Kong, building up the design company’s Asian business. There he learned to think independently. “It was pre-Internet,” Halligan says. “You’re completely isolated, you have to make your own decisions, you can’t rely on anyone else. Your boss was many time zones away. You’re really on your own.” He also took from PTC its sales-driven culture. The company was “very good at hiring young, aggressive people and teaching them how to sell,” he says.

Later, at Groove, Halligan learned from Ray Ozzie how to “skate way ahead of where the puck was” and build a business based on where the Web and its users were moving. At HubSpot, he says, “We’re trying to do the same thing in marketing” as Groove did for collaborative software tools. “We also saw the power of small business,” he adds. “We saw you could reach small businesses in a very effective way.”

I asked about challenges and missteps at HubSpot over the years. “It’s gone smoothly,” he says, with “little hiccups here and there, but no potholes. Those are probably still ahead of us.” Halligan did say that in the first two years, the startup “put too many venture dollars into sales and marketing, and not enough into product. Sales were great; the product wasn’t great.” He admits that might be because of his sales-focused PTC background. But since then, he says, “We caught up.”

Lastly, Halligan thinks HubSpot exemplifies an important shift toward more mature, founder-led companies. Instead of VCs investing in a young kid and then getting a veteran to run the company (“adult daycare”), he says, more founders are sticking around to lead their firms through their growth stages. Halligan, for one, doesn’t want to leave his baby anytime soon.

“I hope they take me out of here in a stretcher in 20 years,” he says.

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